The Lead-Crime Era Is Now Firmly Behind Us

The FBI reported today that the murder rate in the US was up 11 percent in 2015. That's a pretty big jump, and I don't want to minimize it. Before we panic too much, however, it's worth noting that the overall violent crime rate was up only 3 percent. The absolute number of murders is fairly small, which means that it tends to be more volatile than the overall violent crime rate.

If you're wondering how I'll make a connection to lead, here it is: this is probably a sign that we're now firmly in a post-lead crime era. Thanks to the ban on leaded gasoline, the number of teenagers born in a high-lead environment has been falling for 20 years, and that's produced a steady decline in the violent crime rate. But by now, pretty much everyone under the age of 30 has grown up in the unleaded gasoline era, and we've made only modest progress in reducing lead further.

What this means is that lead abatement has run its course. From now on, unless we do something about the remaining lead in soil and paint, crime rates will reflect other factors: drugs, guns, poverty, race, policing, etc. Unleaded gasoline has done what it could, and now the rest is up to us.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth noting that this applies mostly to North America and Europe. In much of Asia, South America, and the Middle East, leaded gasoline held on a lot longer. In those places, we likely have another 10-20 years of declining crime rates thanks to a reduction in the number of kids who grow up with lead poisoning.

A couple of days ago, NYU law professor Lily Batchelder released a paper that takes a close look at the details of Donald Trump's tax plan. She concludes that several million middle-class families will pay more under Trump's plan than they do now. Jim Tankersley reports the Trump campaign's response:

The Trump campaign called the findings "pure fiction," contending the analysis neglects a crucial benefit for low-income taxpayers....Most importantly, Miller said Trump will instruct the committees writing his plan into law to make sure that it does not raise taxes on any low- or middle-income earners. "In sending our proposal to the tax-writing committees we will include instructions to ensure all low and middle income households are protected," Miller said.

This is obviously spin, but the funny thing is that it's true. The details that Batchelder analyzed really won't matter much once Trump's proposal gets fed into the congressional sausage machine. Rather, his tax plan is essentially a statement of values. It tells the voting public what he believes in.

And that's the problem. If Trump truly cared about the middle class, he and his team would have taken a very close look at the details to make sure his plan benefited the entire middle class. Obviously they didn't. They treated it like a throwaway that Congress would iron out later.

Conversely, does anyone doubt that they were very careful indeed about vetting the effect of his plan on the rich? There's surely not a single person in the top 1 percent who will accidentally end up paying higher taxes under Trump's plan. Why? Because Trump cares about rich people. They're winners.1 Struggling families and single mothers are losers. Why sweat the details for the likes of them?

1Also because his plan is so overwhelmingly favorable for rich people that it's basically impossible for small details to wipe out their average gain.

I'll Be Liveblogging the Debate Tonight

I know what many of you are thinking. "Is Kevin going to liveblog the debate tonight? If he doesn't, will I actually have to watch this dumpster fire?"

No worries. I'm a dedicated professional, and that means I'll watch the debate so you don't have to. And unlike certain other professionals I could name, I'll try to fact check in real time. This is actually harder than you'd think, and Donald Trump's firehose of lies wrapped in ignorance inside a fog of gibberish doesn't make it any easier. But I'll try.

The debate starts at 9 pm Eastern. I'll start up a few minutes before then.

From the Wall Street Journal:

One-third of voters say the presidential debates will be very important in helping them decide whom to support for president, with slightly more Republicans than Democrats saying so, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found.

This is one reason not to take polls too seriously. It's not even faintly plausible that a third of the voting public is undecided enough that the debates will make any difference to them. The true number is probably closer to 5 percent. Maybe 10 percent at the outside. And even that small number will probably break about evenly by Election Day. There's an endless body of research showing that the actual effect of debates is minuscule.

In most polls,1 the fact that people say stuff like this is a far, far bigger source of inaccuracy than the margin of error. The biggest problem with polls is human beings, not statistics.

1Simple candidate preference polls are an exception. They tend to be fairly accurate.

Alex Burns of the New York Times thinks that Howard Kurtz of Fox News was soft on Donald Trump in a recent interview. Kurtz isn't buying it:

Let's go to the tape and see who's right:

KURTZ: Let me move on. You said in many interviews, including with me, that you opposed the Iraq war before it began. Now, I've looked at the forums that you've cited Esquire Magazine, Neil Cavuto's show and don't see any clear evidence of that. And of course, you had the sort of a lukewarm comment to Howard Stern and I guess so to be....

TRUMP: Well, that was long before the war started and I can tell you that was long before the war started with Howard that's the first time the word Iraq was ever mentioned to me....

KURTZ: But why not say...

[crosstalk]

KURTZ: Why not say you're a private business...

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: And then I spoke to Neil Cavuto...Sean Hannity...blah blah blah.

KURTZ: Right, but why not say I was a private — I was a private businessman. I had no responsibility to take a public position before the war and I criticized the invasion after it began?

TRUMP: Sean Hannity...Neil Cavuto...blah blah blah.

KURTZ: All right.

I guess you can form your own opinion, but it sounds to me like Kurtz asked about Iraq in a decidedly milquetoasty way, Trump delivered his usual lies, and Kurtz then did his best to play campaign manager and suggest that Trump try a whole new way of misleading the public. Journalism!

The New York Times kicked things off this weekend with "A Week of Whoppers From Donald Trump." The Washington Post followed suit with its own compilation of a week of lies. Today, the Los Angeles Times ups the ante with "Scope of Trump's Lies Unmatched":

Donald Trump says that taxes in the United States are higher than almost anywhere else on earth. They’re not. He says he opposed the Iraq war from the start. He didn’t. Now, after years of spreading the lie that President Obama was born in Africa, Trump says that Hillary Clinton did it first (untrue) and that he’s the one who put the controversy to rest (also untrue).

Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has.

Gee I wonder what Lester Holt is going to ask Trump about at tomorrow's debate?

The Clinton Foundation Sure Is a Great Charity

When it comes to charity, Dylan Matthews is pretty hardnosed. To earn his approval, a charity better focus on truly important problems and be damn good at it. So how about the Clinton Foundation? After starting out as a skeptic, he says, "I've come to the conclusion that the Clinton Foundation is a real charitable enterprise that did enormous good." In particular, he praises the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which helped lower the cost of HIV drugs and saved untold lives. But there's a catch:

And—perhaps uncomfortably for liberals and conservatives alike — it is exactly the kind of unsavory-seeming glad-handing and melding of business and politics for which Bill and Hillary Clinton have taken years of criticism that led to its greatest success....The deals made required buy-in from developing governments. The person tasked with getting that buy-in was a former US president with existing relationships with many of those people. Bill Clinton essentially used his chumminess with foreign politicians and pharmaceutical executives, the kind of thing about the Clinton Global Initiative that earns suspicious news coverage, to enlist their help in a scheme to expand access to HIV/AIDS drugs.

I don't get it. Why should this make anyone feel uncomfortable? Lots of people have star power, but very few have star power with both rich people and foreign leaders. Bill Clinton is one of those few, so he chose a project that (a) could save a lot of lives, (b) required buy-in from both rich people and foreign leaders, and (c) was right at the cusp where an extra push could really make a difference.

I can't even imagine why anyone would consider this unsavory, unless they've lived in a cave all their lives and don't understand that glad-handing and chumminess are essential parts of how human societies operate. Matthews may be right that many people feel uneasy about this, but I can't figure out why. It sounds like Clinton chose to do something that his particular mix of experience and character traits made him uncommonly good at. That's pretty smart.

The Wall Street Journal has checked out every Fortune 100 CEO in the country, and not a single one supports Donald Trump:

Most have stayed on the sidelines, with 89 of the 100 top CEOs not supporting either presidential nominee, and 11 backing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton....Hope Hicks, Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman, said the candidate has “tremendous support from small and large business CEOs and business owners,” and added that he “is not beholden to supporters with agendas like CEOs of massive, publicly traded companies.”

You betcha, Hope. Trump never wanted the support of those guys anyway, amirite?

Seven Days of Donald Trump's Lies

The New York Times has compiled a list of 31 of Donald Trump's "falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies" today. "A closer examination," they say, "revealed an unmistakable pattern: Virtually all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods directly bolstered a powerful and self-aggrandizing narrative depicting him as a heroic savior for a nation menaced from every direction."

Quite so, and this would seem unremarkable except for one thing: this list covers only the past week. And it doesn't include "untruths that appeared to be mere hyperbole or humor, or delivered purely for effect, or what could generously be called rounding errors."

In other words, just lies. For one week. And yet a lot of people still believe Trump is going to build a wall and has a foolproof secret plan to crush ISIS. Apparently we are a nation of patsies these days.

About a month ago, I wrote about our latest experiment in how we pay for MoJo's journalism—our first-ever attempt to ask our regular readers to sign up as sustaining donors with a tax-deductible gift that automatically renews every month. The day after our pledge drive went live, the Justice Department announced it would phase out private prison contracts in the wake of Shane Bauer's first-hand investigation into those facilities. In response to that amazing news 1,061 donors signed up, donating $11,792 in just the first nine days.

In the five weeks since then, our results slowed down—but we expected that. In fact, a big part of the experiment was not just learning if we could raise the money, but figuring out how could we do it. We hoped we could do it without blanketing the site with ads or bombarding your inboxes with panicky emails.

So far, so good on that front. You've probably seen a fundraising ad or two over the last few days, but we've managed to avoid the sensational emails. With a week to go, we're currently sitting around $21,500 raised from 1,785 donors—which is pretty generous when you consider that $21,000 each month turns into more than $250,000 a year from now. Still, our goal remains $30,000, and it's going to be a nail-biter whether we can make that next $8,500 before next Friday's deadline.

So here's hoping you'll help us get across the finish line and meet our $30,000 goal—which will turn into $360,000 by this time next year. You can do it by credit card here. If you prefer PayPal, you can give monthly here—just be sure to check the box next to your gift amount.

And now, without further ado, your reward in advance for contributing to Mother Jones: double catblogging. Enjoy!